What You Need to Know When You’re Having Surgery

If you have been told you need surgery, it can be a pretty scary thing. Knowing what to expect can help to put many of your fears behind you and your mind at ease.

The most important thing to know is that operations have never been safer. In the United States, any procedure that carries substantial risk is performed in a modern, clean, well-staffed hospital operating room. In addition to the surgeon, there will also be nurses assisting, and at least one person – an anesthetist – totally responsible for your making sure you are comfortable and free of pain throughout the entire process. The anesthetist will be either an anesthesiologist (a medical doctor trained to perform anesthesia) or an assistant who performs their duties under supervision of the staff anesthesiologist.

When you arrive for your operation, you will go to a pre-op holding area where you will be visited by various members of your surgery and anesthesiology teams. They will go over your medical history with you, discuss the procedure and answer your questions. If you are having a operation on an arm or a leg, your surgeon will mark the site of your inscision with an ordinary pen. An ‘X’ on the left knee reminds the surgeon that you are having the operation on your left – not your right – knee.

Before you are wheeled from the pre-op area to the operating room, your nurse or anesthetist will start an IV, usually in the back of your hand. If you are having a major surgery, you may have additional IV’s inserted, so that your anesthesiologist can easily administer drugs and fluids into your veins – as well as monitor you physical status – as required throughout your operation. All of this is very routine for your medical team.

On your way to the operating room, you may be given a small dose of a medication that will help you relax. When you arrive in the operating room, you will be assisted onto an operating table. Your anesthetist will apply EKG patches to your chest to monitor your heartbeat, a blood pressure cuff and another sticky patch on your finger (or earlobe) to measure the oxygen in your blood during your operation. Relax – it’s all perfectly painless!

Finally, before your operation begins, you will be given more medications through your IV that will render you insensitive to pain. Depending on your overall, general health and the type of operation you are having, you may have an “epidural” or “spinal” anesthetic placed in your back, or you may have a “regional” anesthetic in which the surgery site is numbed, or you may have a “general” anesthetic in which you are gently put to sleep and a tube is inserted into your windpipe to administer special anesthetic gases and to help you breath during your operation.

When you awake, your operation will be finished, there will be nurses and doctors carefully monitoring your progress and you will be closely attended to until you are discharged from the operating center.